8 Metrics to Consider When Interpreting Data from Analytics



April 4, 2013 (Updated: May 15, 2023)

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When looking over your data and analytics, it’s tempting to focus exclusively on the positive numbers. Where did we see an increase this month? What charts can we look at to showcase how great we’re doing? This is a particularly bad habit for agencies whose clients are paying them specifically to increase numbers such as traffic, shares and time on site. Instead of viewing analytics as data that proves you’re doing something right, think of it as data that shows what you’re doing wrong and where you can improve. Here are our top eight metrics that might show the darker side of your web page.

1. Bounce Rate, Percent Exit Rate, and Page Load

Bounce Rate

The Bounce Rate is the percentage of visitors that only make it to one page. A high bounce rate means that users reach your site and immediately realize it’s not what they wanted. This metric cuts through the guise of quantity and shows the quality of your visitors. You may hit a thousand page views and make your client happy, but a bounce rate of 95% shows that the visitors you brought probably won’t come back anytime soon.

Percent Exit Rate

The Exit Rate shows the percentage of users that left a site from that page, use it to do a check-up on your calls to action. Are people making it to the Purchase page but not buying anything? It could be because that part of the site is broken or too difficult fill out. You will be much happier when your exit rate decreases on the Purchase Page and increases on the Order Confirmation page.

Page Loading Times

Think about how long it takes before you give up on a slow loading page and return to Google. Milliseconds, right? Your visitors aren’t different. Your content isn’t so great that readers will have more patience. No matter how fantastic your website is, you’ll lose readers if it takes too long to load.

 2. Traffic Sources

I have hypothetical good news and bad news. The good news is that your social media strategy is spot on, you’re all the buzz on Twitter and people ‘like’ you. The bad news is that your SEO strategy is a failure. This can be found by looking at the Traffic sources for your web page:

Direct Traffic

In a world where people increasingly Google “Facebook” instead of actually typing in Facebook.com, direct traffic is a sinking number. However, this can be helpful if you create a microsite for a campaign or change your URL. Did your marketing message stick? Are people still typing in oldURL.com or have they caught on to FancynewURL.org?

Referral Traffic

This is where your social element comes in. Are people clicking through on the blogs you guest post on? It might not benefit you if they don’t. Do they come from Facebook and Twitter? Maybe your product is very sharable or maybe your social media tactics are paying off. This statistic is great for measuring how much the social networks are talking about your product.

Search Engine

This is where your SEO comes in. How search engine friendly is your website? If you know for a fact that your site shows up first in multiple searches but this percentage is still abysmal, it may be time to look at your keywords or title tags and descriptions on pages.

3. Keywords

Let’s keep with the example that your Search Engine Traffic is significantly lower than it should be.

First are the keywords relevant to your content? A doggie day spa called “Pet Baths” would want to show up in searches dog-related searches (Dog spas, dog grooming, dog care, etc.) but not bath-related ones (buying sinks, bathtubs, clean shower.) Are the Keywords that people reach your site from relevant to your content?

Next, if the keywords look good, check the bounce rate for each of them to see where you’re successes and failures lie. The “Pet Baths” store above may rank for both ‘dog spas’ and ‘doggie daycare’ but the bounce rate for doggie daycare would be substantially higher if they don’t offer that service. It may be time to give up on certain irrelevant keywords and focus on a core bucket.

4. Queries

This data is similar to your keywords, but also includes searches that your site shows up in but doesn’t receive any clicks. Look for two types of results in your queries:

  • Words or phrases that you are incorrectly showing up for (Ex: Are you showing up for “Impending Doom” when you run a content marketing blog?)
  • Words or phrases that are relevant, but you can’t get clicks on (Ex: Are people skimming over your fantastic cupcake tutorial?)

The key to this metric is the click-through rate. If there are some words that you rank high for that you couldn’t get a click if you paid for it, it’s possible someone else is. Competitors could be outbidding you or your client with AdWords and lowering your rank. These queries can also be a red flag for title tags and meta-descriptions. The copy could be turning away potential visitors with incorrect descriptions or boring copy.

If you find bizarre searches or depressing CTRs, look to where you can spruce up the SEO copy. Analytics aren’t just supposed to point out everything websites are doing wrong, they’re also supposed to present opportunities. Scour your queries for useful words you never even thought about using and consider them for future content or meta descriptions.

5. Identifying and Creating Goals

Goals in Google Analytics are different from Goals in a marketing campaign. Goals is synonymous to conversion in Google Analytics. Picture this: your company is launching a White Paper where visitors must input their email to read the whole thing. As the site goes live your team anxiously crowds around a computer monitor to see who signs up. Each time someone signs-up for the White Paper via email your entire team runs around the office screaming “GOOOAALLLL!” at the top of their lungs. Congrats, you just scored a goal.

That example is a tad overdramatic, and Google Analytics won’t cheer for you every time you make a sale, but it shows that thinking of goals in individual increments instead of broad ideas with help with your analytics.

Google Analytics uses a fantastic basketball example in their blog post for setting up Goal Funnels (Pau Gasol haters need not apply). The steps to purchase something on your page might make perfect sense to you but could be tripping up new visitors. By tracking several funnels you can see if and when potential customers are getting lost.

6. Follow Custom URLs

Now that you have your Goals all set up, and have hopefully created an easy to use Goal funnel, you can start to see whether the quality of traffic is low or high. By making URLs specific to each outlet, you can determine which campaigns are effective not only for driving traffic, but also for conversions.

Let’s say you get 75% of your referral traffic from Twitter and only 10% from Facebook. It would seem like Twitter is the more valuable outlet.  But if you compare the Goals from custom URLs you might see that the traffic from Facebook has a higher conversion rate than Twitter. This makes Facebook more valuable to your bottom line.

Getting visitors to your site is only half the battle, just like noting referral traffic is only half of your metrics. Once you see where quality traffic is coming from, you can reevaluate your social media strategy and to make improvements are repairs.

7. Site Content

Even the best social media and SEO strategy can be for naught if your site has irrelevant content. We discussed creating Goal funnels above and learning where visitors are getting lost in the buying process. Your visitors could be turned off from buying not only because of a poorly laid out site, but because your content isn’t what they expected.

When Google’s spiders crawl all over webpages they try to determine what the site is about. This is the one for CopyPressed: Fortunately for us, we are a site that covers such topics as marketing, building connections, curation and social media. If we were a site that focused exclusively on SEO or web development, these keywords would be pretty depressing.

When you think about keywords, you can’t just focus on what’s bringing your name up in searches, you have to think about what Google assumes your site is about. If Google thinks your site is about X, new visitors will probably think that too, even if you think it’s about Y.

8. ROI from AdWords Campaigns

This one is a no-brainer. Any money you put into paid searches you should more than get back. After all, what’s the point in paying for a high rank if it’s not going to help your campaign?

Focusing on ROI instead of CTR is what will separate the fair-weather analytics user from the experts. The rookie will compare CTR on AdWords with CTR in organic search, find the numbers from Adwords significantly higher (as they paid for those numbers) and come to the conclusion that their paid campaign was a success. After all, it increased traffic, right? Wrong.

Check the follow through of paid campaigns through specific URLs and other Google Analytics tools. Smashing Magazine goes further in-depth on how to do this. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on a keyword if it brings back zero dollars to the company.

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